Comparing Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” and “A Jury of Her Peers”Utilizing two different genres, the short story and drama, Susan Glaspell tells the tale of Minnie Wright and the murder of her husband John. Continuous in the use of plot, sequence of action, and tone the play and story compliment one another. Written first, in 1916, “Trifles” is a briefer and more mood evoking production of Mrs.
Hale and Mrs. Peters’ discovery of Minnie’s motive for murder. Glaspell is limited in this form from exploring the character of Mrs. Hale beyond the dialogue with Mrs.
Peters and the tone of the scene. However, in “Jury of Her Peers” the moment of truth is more gradual, the understanding of Mrs. Hale is deeper and to that extent the plight of Minnie Wright becomes more heartrending. While “Trifles” is equally indicative of the deep sadness and marginalization of Minnie Wright within her own life, the small tragedies that create crimes become amplified in the solemn internal narrative of Mrs.
Hale in Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers.”It is important to note here at the beginning that there is, aside from the more internalized perspective of the characters, in actually reading their thoughts in the case of Mrs. Hale, little difference between the play “Trifles” and the short story “A Jury of Her Peers.” Glaspell does not deviate from the basic plot of Minnie Wright’s murder of her husband, or the subtle devises used to illustrate Minnie’s guilt and motive in strangling her husband as he slept.
The broken-necked canary is found by Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, as well as kept from the view of the county prosecutor and their husbands. The conversations between the main characters, Mrs.
Hale and Mrs. Peters, as well as their husbands and the county prosecutor, remain largely the same from text to text. For example, when Mr. Hale describes his encounter with Minnie Wright in “Trifles” he notes, “She was rockin’ back and forth.
She had her apron in her hand and was kind of – pleating it” (“Trifles” ll.17). In “A Jury of Her Peers” he makes the same observation, differently but to the same affect saying that she was in the rocking chair when he entered, looking “as if she didn’t know what she was going to do next. And kind of–done up.
” In fact, within this framework the short story appears to be simply an expansion on the play. However, it is not expansive in the manner that it tells necessarily more of the story, though the story begins at Mrs. Hale’s home while the play begins at the Wright’s, it is rather expansive in the way that it goes beyond what is said or inferred to touch on the thoughts that Mrs. Hale cannot say aloud, “It came into Mrs.
Hale’s mind that that rocker didn’t look in the least like Minnie Foster–the Minnie Foster of twenty years before. It was a dingy red, with wooden rungs up the back, and the middle rung was gone, and the chair sagged to one side” (“A Jury of Her Peers”).Even this is minor, as most of what is revealed of Mrs. Hale is still shown in the implications of what she says, and more importantly chooses not to say to Mrs.
Peters or the men. In this way, the play and short story are implicitly linked to one another. The story becomes, in some ways, a more readable version of the play. What makes the short story more effective and powerful in its emotional impact is the re situating of Mrs.
Hale to a prominence she does not carry in the play. As with the play, she is the eyes through which we know and sympathize with Minnie Wright; it is she who paints the picture of a youthful Minnie, “she was kind of like a bird herself – real sweet and pretty” (“Trifles” ll.107). Without Mrs.
Hale’s observations of Minnie Wright, and her unflattering attitude toward John Wright, the reader of the short story and the audience of the play would have little context from which to view the story. However, in the story the perspective becomes Mrs. Hale’s; with the play, the perspective and interpretation of information is solely the property of the audience. With the short story, the effects and implications of Minnie Wright’s crime become located in one woman, Mrs.
Hale.By individualizing the perspective in the short story, Glaspell injects a personal tone into that makes it all the more heartbreaking. In the emotional effects Minnie’s crime has on Mrs. Hale, it’s easier to discern the feelings of domestic imprisonment in the Wright household and the theme of just retaliation, “She thought of the flour in her kitchen at home–half sifted, half not sifted.
She had been interrupted, and had left things half done. What had interrupted Minnie Foster? Why had that work been left half done?” (“A Jury of Her Peers). Mrs. Hale becomes more connected to the character of Minnie Wright in the short story than she is able to in the play and through this process the reader too is able to have a greater sympathy for the guilty woman.
They are not merely neighbors but two sides of the same domestic coin; having once shared girlhood, their lives have grown more secluded and the chances to share in day-to-day events of the other have become stymied not merely by John Wright but time itself. While Mrs. Hale has learned to cope and has found joy in her own domesticity, she sees the failures of happiness in Minnie Wright and experiences a kind of survivor guilt, knowing that the same fate could have befallen her as well. In the end, while both play and short story tell us of the tale of Minnie Wright, it is the story that makes the plight of such women a tangible reality and reinforces their individual humanity.
Works CitedGlaspell, Susan. “A Jury of Her Peers.” Literature. Ed.
Janet E. Gardner. 2nd Ed. Boston: Bedford/St.
Martin’s, 2008.Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles.” Literature.
Ed. Janet E. Gardner. 2nd Ed.
Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 94-105.